"New Kid," "Front Desk" Challenged; Alex Gino Talks Impact of Book Banning

During this Banned Books Week, Jerry Craft and Kelly Yang saw their books challenged by parents, and authors discussed what it means to have their books "banned."

This story has been updated.

It was a busy Banned Books Week, as the stepped-up challenges to books and their authors continue,  with books by kid lit creators Jerry Craft and Kelly Yang added to the list of titles some parents claim are objectionable.

Parents in Katy, TX, demanded that school officials cancel Jerry Craft’s October virtual author visit and “stop the promotion of” his 2019 Newbery Medal winner New Kid and the sequel Class Act.

When someone tweeted about New Kid, “How is this book banned?” Craft responded, “???????? Apparently I’m teaching critical race theory.”

The petition, which had 444 signatures as of Friday morning, reads:

“Author Jerry Craft is scheduled to have a Zoom call with elementary aged students at over 30 Katy ISD schools on October 4, 2021.

"This petition is to ask KISD administration and superintendent to cancel the Zoom call and stop promotion of these books which are wrought with critical race theory in the form of teaching children that their white privilege inherently comes with microaggressions which must be kept in check.

"Craft's writings, "New Kid" and "Class Act," are being promoted to the students and their parents without any notice of the overt Critical Race Theory teachings throughout both books. Craft himself discusses the teaching of microaggressions in these graphic novels. He laughs about how he had to make the stories funny in order to make sure the point about the inherent racism in schools and society are made.”

Craft's author visit was canceled and the books pulled "pending review."

Meanwhile, in Plainedge NY, parents objected to a fifth grade read-aloud of Kelly Yang’s Front Desk.

“I'm so terribly heartbroken to hear that FRONT DESK has been banned in this school district,” Yang wrote on Twitter. “Books about the immigrant experience are valid. Books about POC are valid. We are valid! #StopBanningBooks

In the end, according to the parent who alerted Yang of the initial controversy via Twitter, the book was not removed from the library and the read-aloud continued, but eight families opted out and were allowed to choose a different title.

Add these to recent fights: In Fairfax, VA, parents are objecting to Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison (which is now facing criticism in Hudson, OH, too), and Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez in the Lake Travis (TX) Independent School District. And those are just the ones that have received media attention.

[READ: Not Quite Banned: Soft Censorship That Makes LGBTQIA+ Stories Disappear]

For authors, having a book challenged seems almost a right of passage, and those that get huge media attention find the protests become profitable.

“Happy #BannedBooksWeek !” The Hate U Give author Angie Thomas tweeted. “I remember the time a Texas school district banned The Hate U Give, and I sold tens of thousands of copies in a week in that same district. Keeping banning my books. I have a second home to buy 😂.”

But Dutton Books for Young Readers executive editor Andrew Karre noted Thomas's situation is not the norm.

“This is a glorious outcome and should be celebrated and thoroughly enjoyed when it happens," Karre tweeted. "It is not, however, a remotely universal outcome for banned books. It is the exception.”

Most challenges do not get national media attention. Sometimes, when they do, they simply become the prop in a viral video. No one knows the number of books that aren’t purchased because educators anticipated a challenge.

Dutton added that a spike in book sales doesn’t deter those who want titles removed:

“I think people who want to ban books are much more interested in the fear they impose on administrators, librarians, and teachers than in the effect on a single book's sales,” he tweeted.

“If their goal was to bully the school community, they can achieve that regardless of how many "filthy" books get sold to people who they already think are their enemies. People who want to ban books are not swayed by shame or popular opinion.”

[READ: Fight Against Censorship Intensifies]

Not all authors revel in their spot in the banned books club.

“To be frank? It sucks,” Alex Gino tweeted as part of a Twitter chat (#BannedBooksChat) on Thursday night.

The author’s book Melissa’s Story ( the title was recently changed by the author from the original George ) has been first on the Top 10 Most Challenged Books list for the last three years.

“It's not a ‘badge of honor,’” Gino continued. “As a trans person writing about another trans person, when Melissa's Story is challenged, someone is saying that my existence is too scary, too deviant, too monstrous, to show to children. It hurts.

“For young LGBTQIAP+ people, seeing others like them in books is a way of knowing that they belong in this world. Their feelings and lives are real and to be celebrated. Without that reflection, many of us struggle to be seen, or even to see ourselves.

“Even those of us who do make it through bear scars. And when queer/trans books are challenged and banned, it says to young people that they are not welcome to be who they are. It tells them to hide and to isolate—a road to mental health disasters.”

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is senior news editor at School Library Journal.

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